Monday, November 8, 2010

Forbidden Fruit: Sex & Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers

Billy Joel once sang about how only the good die young. It was a song about a good catholic girl and a bad rebel trying to sway her from her religious roots. Now we never know what happened to that girl at the end of the song (to many ooo’s and woah’s to find out) but if the author of Forbidden Fruit: Sex & Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford University Press, 2007), Mark Regnerus, has any say in the matter he might conclude that she ran off with the boy.

Forbidden Fruit is a few years old so it wouldn’t surprise me if you’ve missed this one recently. However, the answers to what is happening in the lives of teens as it relates to sex and sexuality, and more importantly the behavior of teens, is why this book deserves to stay on our reading lists. Regnerus asks questions about religion and sex among American teenagers, and his conclusions are neither simple nor straightforward. In fact, he poses that simple and straightforward answers to questions about sex (like, avoid sex before you're married) have largely fallen flat among American teens, Christians included. There's new material on emerging sexual norms, masturbation, homosexuality, virginity loss, and post-virginity sexual decision-making. For these reasons, I think the book could be considered as a standard in the study of adolescent sexual behavior, independent of its emphasis on religion.

Forbidden Fruit
is not only a meta-analysis on the issues of religion and sex as it relates to teens but it also gives insight into how people of faith have discussed the topic of sex. Regnerus quotes Don Schrader who says, “to hear many religious people talk, one would think God created the torso, head, legs, and arms, but the devil slapped on the genitals.” Unfortunately the data collected suggests that religion has failed to persuade people to talk about sex in ways that are not dehumanizing and demonizing all in the hope of keeping teens from having sex before marriage.

Whether you are a parent, pastor or educator I would recommend this book. It can at times be very thick with statistics, but Regnerus masterfully balances his overall analysis with the rawness of teenage emotion and experience. Overall, I think this is worth the time to sit and read. There are few authors who can tackle such a serious subject in such a disarming way.

-- Jason Soucinek

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